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25 Kids Photography Tips to Get the Perfect Shot

Photographing kids isn’t the easiest of pursuits. You have many factors to consider and you also have to make a photoshoot seem fun, or at least tolerable, for a kid (or two) that doesn’t want to sit still. With these 25 kids photography tips, you should be well on your way to capturing stunning images in no time.

Don’t Manage, Try Bonding

As a photographer, you are anything but funny to a young child. You can very quickly become someone bugging and nagging them. You definitely don’t want things to get that bad.

I have seen some kid photographers trying to behave with kids as they would do with professional models. Sometimes they even try to micro-manage them. Not only does that not work. But at the end of the day, you will create a bad reputation for yourself as a photographer. Because the parents of those kids are going to pass the word around how you have irritated their kids. In short, your reputation as a bad kid photographer will precede you.

Remember, you have to be good with children. That should be the highlight of your resume. The photography part comes afterwards.

Go With the Flow

If you think your meticulous planning and your well-crafted workflow means anything to children, think again. For them, it doesn’t make a difference. So, if you are on the clock learn how to work well beyond your normal working time. Learn how to be patient when you are around children. And above all, learn how to go with the flow.

One of the first things that you will learn as a kid photographer is that kids have their own agenda. And that has absolutely nothing to do with your plans to take some good photos. So, basically, you must learn how to mix the two together if you are going to walk away with some good presentable photos.

Make Them Curious, Get Their Attention

Radio-controlled wireless flashes are great for both indoor and outdoor lighting. But when it comes to photographing kids, they offer you one more strategic advantage. To show a magic trick. Well, kids are way more advanced than what we used to be some three or four decades ago. But some tricks still work. And they work pretty well if the demographic you are trying to impress is between three to five years.

So, bring out those radio-controlled flashes and show your subject how you can magically fire the flash by blinking your eyes. Blink and flash. Blink and flash again! It never fails. And as a bonus, you get to capture those awe-struck faces with bright wide eyes!

Let Them Do Their Thing

Kids will be kids. They are fine doing what they do best. i.e., goofing around, playing, and simply being themselves. There is no point in trying to micro-manage them as I have already pointed above. As a photographer, you would be better off trying to get down on their level. Bring out the 6-year old inside you and let him/her run amok. I guarantee you that you will find much better opportunities to photograph beautiful images of kids if you become a kid temporarily than trying to be a pro photographer.

Engage Them in Some Activities While You Photograph Them

A majority of kids love doing activities of some kind. Spend some time interviewing them/their parents before you begin your photography session. If they love playing on the beach or playing in the yard it is probably a better idea to move the shoot to an outdoor location where they are more comfortable.

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Activities tend to bring out the best in kids. They are perfectly relaxed and enjoying themselves and are therefore much more likely to co-operate with you.

Additionally, in the outdoors you get the advantage of using natural light. There is no need to lug large artificial lights and light modifiers. Just a camera and a lens and maybe an off-camera light are all that you will need.

If you plan your shoot properly, you can shoot with the normal sunlight, the golden hour light as well as the blue hour sky. You will need at least one external off-camera light in all three lighting scenarios to mix and match.

Share With Them a Crafting or Activity Idea

I have often seen when the kids are engaged in some sort of activity, they tend to respond better. Also, they are less likely to get bored. Crafts such as DIY sets are a great idea. You can even take them outdoors and let their imagination run wild.

Collecting items from an area and encouraging them to build something is also a great idea. While they are at it you will also likely to get some opportunities to make a some good images.

Find What They Are Good at and Ask Them to do it for You

Most kids love to do something or the other as a natural talent. I have seen kids impersonate their parents. Some, impersonate their teachers or even their grandparents. Some have a natural talent for music. When my daughter was young she had a passion for singing. She still does that along with playing the keyboard. But at an age of 3 years watching someone trying to strike the right notes with a kiddy accent was both fun and satisfying. And not to forget, while she was at it, I would be clicking away capturing every emotion and expression.

Use Location Shoots

A great idea for photographing kids is to take them to a location. The beach, the mountain, the woods, they just love the outdoors. I have hardly come across a kid who does not like one or the other. And when they are in the middle of the elements it unfailingly brings out the best in them.

I agree it may not always be feasible to do location shoots. There are budget constraints, time constraints, and other potential barriers that could get in the way. But with a bit of planning and research, it shouldn’t be too hard to pull off!

Bring in the Family Pet

If you can bring a family pet into the mix of things, then it becomes a huge asset on the set. Provided of course you can pull the entire thing off. The family pet can assume the role of a stress-reliever. It can also perform an integral role in bringing everything together and help you in your kid’s photography assignments. Not many photographers do that. Some are scared of dogs and other animals. Some genuinely have no clue how to manage both on the set.

But it is one of the best kids photography tips we can share with you. Engaging the pet doubles the cuteness quotient. It also improves the overall quality of the photos.

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Kids get focused on their family pets and that helps the photographer because the kid is no longer conscious of someone pointing a camera at them.

But hang on. Before you get all mushy thinking about pets and kids in a single frame let me give you a fair warning. Pets and kids are difficult to work separately. Having them together in the same frame means a lot more work. Because now you have not one but two non-cooperating toddlers! Because pets are just that. They have no regard for what you intend to get done or what you want from them.

Tend to the Mom and the Dad

The parents of the child must be worrying exactly how the photoshoot will progress. They could be worrying about a lot of things. But the one thought they will be worrying the most about is whether their child will cooperate with the photographer. Sometimes they also worry about their child damaging some of the expensive equipment on the shoot.

So, it is important as a kids photographer to alleviate those fears. It helps if you have equipment insurance. That takes care of fears of your equipment getting damaged. Outline your plans in advance and let the parents know. Build a relationship with the child before you bring out your camera.

When it comes to lack of cooperation and the fear that their child may resort to that tactics, you have to place your best foot forward as a kids photographer. It is your reassurance as a professional, someone who knows what they are doing can ensure that the parents themselves do not get hyper before or during the shoot.

Engage With Them by Playing Games

One thing that you can try is having them play games. Whatever they like playing, the choice could be theirs. You can also suggest something like this – “Hey, you know what? When I was about your age, I used to play this game with my friends. Do you want to try it?”

There is no guarantee that the response will always be in the affirmative. But it is always worth a shot. Half the time, it works.

The whole idea is to get them engaged, playing a game, while you get the opportunity to click a few shots.

Let Them Become the Photographer

One thing I enjoy doing when I photograph children is to always let them play with my camera. Kids have indomitable curiosity. A stranger wielding a heavy camera and a lens is anything but fun to them. But if you let them touch your camera, look through the viewfinder and even take a few images of their siblings or parents (or you), that immediately makes the whole exercise fun. What’s in it for you other than possible small fingerprints on the front element? You get to take an image in return!

Encourage Them to Do the Reverse of What You Want Them to Do

What? Kids are masters at doing the exact opposite of what’s being asked of them. Tell them the fridge is off-limits and when you return invariably some of the fruits will be missing or a bar of chocolate has vanished.

Not all kids are like that. But knowing my own daughter and a few other kids that I have babysat over the years, I know for sure if the kids you are photographing are not like that they have something even more sinister planned for you.

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Don’t get me wrong I love kids and I love a bunch of them running around in the house. But for a photographer that reverse action psychology never works. Unless he/she is prepared to roll up their sleeves and play ball.

So, the idea is to ask them to not smile. And invariably they will not be able to hold their smile for long. Ask them to not stand on one leg and invariably they will try doing just that. What will follow is a lot of laughter and hopefully a few memorable photos.

Give Them Breaks

No one likes to be bugged by the camera for prolonged periods of time. Kids are the last of them. If you are even good at reading children then you should be able to realize when they are feeling the heat and you need to back off.

Backing off means completely disengaging and putting the camera away. Engaging with them not as someone who is in a hurry to get the job done but someone who is prepared to genuinely spend some quality time with them.

Once you change your approach you are going to find it a lot easier to gain their trust and therefore make it easier to capture some quality images in the process.

Most Importantly They Must Have Fun

Which brings us to the last of the kids photography tips – the kids must have fun. This is probably the most important of all kids photography tips you are likely to get. The children must have fun. No matter what. If they are not having fun then the whole process not only becomes mundane but also stressful for them. And you don’t want that to happen, do you?

As long as they are having fun, they are going to co-operate with you and play along. Occasionally, giving you those shots that will blow away your mind. Shots their parents will go crazy over.

Additional Kids Photography Tips

Now for some obvious kids photography tips that you have to employ in your work. Consider these as the fundamentals. Whatever you just finished reading above, must be attempted in conjugation with these tips.

Focus on the Eye

This is one of the fundamental aspects of portrait photography. When making portrait images always ensure that the single AF point that you have selected coincided with the subject’s eye that is closest to you. If the subject is facing dead straight to you then focusing on either eye does the job for you. But if the subject is even slightly turned away, then focusing on the eye closest to you allows you to get that eye sharp. There are a number of advantages to that.

Getting the eye closest to you perfectly sharp compared to the eye further away is a given. There is no scientific explanation why this works. Except we can say that we prefer things which are closer to us to be sharp rather than those that are further away.

The most important advantage is that when the eye(s) are sharp the quality of the image automatically increases.

Compare two images side by side. Same subject, same lighting. Everything is the same. Except that in one of the images the eyes are not sharp and in the other image the eyes are tack sharp. Comparing the images side by side will immediately make you realize the importance of having the eyes of a subject in a photo sharp.

Camera manufacturers have gone to extreme lengths to ensure that the eyes of a subject are tack sharp in every image. They have introduced eye-focus and other eye-tracking tools for the benefit of the photographer. Make sure to use and experiment with these features if they’re included with your camera.

Get Down to Their Level

You don’t want to photograph kids from your eye-level. Compare two images side by side. One in which a kid is photographed from lower down, about the same level as the child’s eyes are. And another where the same child is photographed from a normal height of an adult. What do you see?

Does the second image feel like that it has been taken from a position of authority? Yes, most definitely. It seems that someone is looking down on the kid. What about the first image? It seems like the child has been photographed by another child. In many ways the best photographic angle for a child.

Get Them Familiar with the Camera

The big booming DSLR with the 24-70mm lens mounted on it is an intimidating sight for even an adult, let alone a child. A child’s perceptions may be different from an adult but still, the sight of that large contraption looming over them is anything but reassuring.

As a kids photographer, it is only meaningful, that you get the kid familiar with the camera and the lens. Relieve their fears. Tell them that it is nothing but a toy, just a bit bigger. That’s it. This is where one of the earlier tips I shared ‘Let Them Become the Photographer’ will come in handy.

Once they realize that there is nothing to be concerned about, they will start being themselves and that is exactly what you need from them.

Keep an Open Mind

With my experience of photographing kids, I have come to understand that there is no single perfect shot that you can plan and execute. You need to have a mixed approach. Plan for something and then keep your mind open to capitalize on the moments that unfurl without notice. With that in mind, you must keep shooting.

Leave your camera on continuous high mode. This allows for maximum frame rates. I have noticed that with kids their facial expressions keep changing every second. If you shoot on continuous high you are likely to come across at least four to five different facial expressions in a span of very little time.

You will find that by using this approach you will have a mix of good photos. Those that you planned and those that happened instantaneously.

Trust Your Main Camera but Also Carry a Smartphone

These days camera manufacturers often blame the emergence of smartphones as the primary reason for the drop in sales of big bulky cameras. I am not going to delve into the financial and market dynamics that are the reasons for the same, but only state the fact that as a photographer you are never complete unless you have a smartphone which is capable of shooting RAW.

There will be moments when either your camera is not in your hands or even if it is it does not have the right lens on or have the right settings dialed in. A smartphone allows you to simply make an image of the moment. Without thinking too much and without having to fiddle too much with the settings.

Pick a Less Fancy Setup if You Can

I love my big bulky DSLR and the 70-200mm lens. It is my bread-and-butter setup. I love it. But there are times when I wish I could carry a small point and shoot camera and discreetly shoot without drawing any attention to myself. Photographing little kids in their elements is one such genre where you might wish to have a similar setup. Not letting them become conscious of you whilst still being able to capture some beautiful moments.

Use Continuous Shooting Mode

One of the things that will serve you well is your camera’s continuous shooting mode. I already iterated this aspect before. Continuous shooting ensures that your camera is able to pick up a lot more frames. With children (and the same theory works for a number of other photography genres as well) I have noticed that the extra number of frames equals to a higher chance of getting images that are potentially great.

Shoot in Good Light

When I say good light, I don’t mean an abundance of light. What I mean specifically, is that you shoot in a light that is ideally soft. If you are shooting outdoors try and shoot on overcast days. Overcast days are great for shooting outdoors because the light is soft. And as you probably are aware soft light never produces deep and dark shadows. That is also great for shooting beautiful flattering portraits.

What if the day of the shoot you find that it is a cloudless sky? With the sun bearing down on you there is no way you could capture that soft beautiful light. But there is a way out. Carry a diffuser with you. The most common are the 5-in-1 reflector sets which have a black side, a silver, a golden, a white and a translucent one. Use the translucent surface to reduce the intensity of the light.

Alternatively, you can use the silver or the white surface to create a shadow. Use the shadow to produce a soft light that would be more suitable for portrait photography.

Stick to the Photography Rules but Break Them When You Can

One of the simple elements of good composition is to use the rules that are often spoken and written about. Golden ratio, rule of thirds, negative space, leading lines, and so on and so forth.

However, there are times where you can also try and break the rules. Breaking the rules allow you to push the boundaries of composition. Cropping is one such technique.

Another technique is using a perspective that is completely radical. Use a drone to take some stills. That creates both an interesting perspective and adds an element of curiosity from the subject. You may get some nice images straightaway.

Use Scale for Fun Results

Children are small. So, the last thing a photographer will be thinking of is making them appear even smaller. But believe me when I say this, using scale can make kids appear much smaller and create some images that are full of character.

A large couch perhaps is a fine idea. Have the kid sit on the couch with their favorite toy and let them be while you capture an image of the largeness of the couch and the comparative smallness of the child. Another idea could be a giant rock or a huge tree. A toddler standing next to the giant tree would look so small.

Conclusion

Photographing kids doesn’t have to be a tough assignment, notwithstanding all the fair warnings and all the inhibitions of working with a kid. Kids are a great subject to photograph. They are fun to hang around with and are the cutest subjects to work with (along with pets).

Don’t let your inhibitions take away the joy of photographing kids. Prepare well but don’t limit yourself to your plans. Try to go with the flow, and above all enjoy the process and you will be fine.

Author

  • Rajib is an avid travel photographer and an overall shutterbug. He loves to test and review new photography gear. He has been writing about cameras and lenses for over 10 years now. You can consider him as your "master guide" here at PhotoWorkout.

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